Welcome to Volume II of The Bilas Index, the most dependable and trusted metric of hoop quality and capability in the known universe. Every conceivable bit of basketball information has been input into the gray matter inside The Bilastrator's skull, and the output is simply magnificent and not subject to question or reasonable debate. The Bilas Index is the final word on all things basketball, and anyone with a functioning brain knows it. To be clear, The Bilas Index is not some weekly poll voted on by media, coaches or fans. It is not subject to current whim or which way the wind might be blowing. It is a clear-eyed evaluation of the 68 best teams in the country, irrespective of home wins, road wins, quads, calves or pecs. This gift from on high is not parsed by a group of well-fed and well-compensated college administrators pretending to be basketball-literate. It is culled from the most savvy and informed mind the game has ever known, and therefore, it is the most powerful basketball evaluation tool ever invented.
The Bilas Index will assist you in suspending disbelief regarding the decisions of the selection committee. This season will bring more controversy than ever from the "let the mid-majors in" crowd -- as if anyone is keeping them out. Despite preferences, the one thing that is incontrovertible is ... this system is fair to all. Each and every team in Division I has the same opportunity to reach the NCAA tournament. Each team can win its conference automatic bid, playing against its true peers. Then, after all automatic bids are factored in, the "best" teams remaining round out the field. It's pretty simple and very fair.
But that is not enough for some who feel the tournament is not a national championship event but some populist vehicle to stump for the little guy. If you think the little guy is the better team, make the case. Or consult The Bilas Index, where it is done for you.
Four out of five dentists recommend The Bilas Index to patients who enjoy winning and being right, and the fifth dentist routinely gets his ass kicked in the NCAA tournament office pool. Of course, the dentist's office pool is gambling and threatens the very fabric of the student-athlete experience, which means, "if the NCAA ain't cashing in on it, it must be bad for the game and society at large." That said, enjoy The Bilas Index, Volume II. As always, you're welcome.
Tier one: National championship favorites
Of course, there is always the chance that a team outside of these favorites can rise up, pull upsets and do something extraordinary in winning a national championship. It has happened before ... Villanova did it in 1985. NC State did it in 1983. Arizona did it in 1997. But in all likelihood, the national champion will come from this group.
If you hadn't noticed before Tuesday, the comeback win against Louisville should seal it. This group is special. This is the best freshman class The Bilastrator has seen in his time in the game. From talent to maturity to athletic character to just plain competing, this group is on a different level. Duke might not win the whole thing, as the best team doesn't always win. However, this is the best team.
If you don't like one-and-done-led teams, then you should love Tennessee. This is an old-school team that has grown up together and is reaping the benefits of being a veteran group. The Vols are shooting better than 52 percent from the field in SEC play, and Grant Williams is living at the free throw line. Tennessee's games against Kentucky will decide the SEC race. The Wildcats will continue to get better as the end nears. There is reason to believe Tennessee will continue to get better, too.
Virginia played well enough to win Saturday against Duke and did not play substantially different defense than Louisville did Tuesday against the Blue Devils. Duke just had the hottest shooting night of the year, hitting 13-of-21 from deep. Still, Virginia was in it until the last minutes. This team is legit. There are but a few backcourts as good as Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. They look like Boy Scouts but play like Navy SEALs.
Losing Killian Tillie is a body blow, but Gonzaga is good enough to absorb it in stride. This is a Final Four team that can beat anybody. Watch out for Brandon Clarke, who is as explosive and productive as any big man in the country. He jumps out of the gym, shoots 68 percent from the floor and has blocked 77 shots in 25 games. That dude is a baller.
Don't be too concerned about the loss to LSU. Kentucky is looking more like the team that was ranked No. 1 before the season. Is this team as good as Duke? No. But this team can beat Duke or anyone else. A major difference has been the stellar play of PJ Washington, who is averaging 21 points and almost six rebounds in his past three games. Washington is a legit pro.
Tier two: Final Four contenders
The list of teams that can reach a Final Four is a bit longer, and Tier Two gets us to a baker's dozen of teams that are among the favorites to reach Minneapolis. Does that mean Loyola-Chicago cannot pull off an amazing run and get there? Of course that can happen -- but it is unlikely.
With Joshua Langford, the Spartans were right there with Duke and Tennessee to cut the nets down. Without him, the Spartans are not as good but still good enough to get to Minneapolis. Cassius Winston must shoulder a bigger load on both ends of the floor and play more minutes, but everyone must do their jobs well and for longer stretches. There is something about this team that gives one a positive feeling. Michigan State is still Michigan State.
Spotty offensive efficiency and lack of depth have been issues for Michigan, which was playing as well as anyone a month ago. Still, the Wolverines are capable. They are just not quite as good as they were, relative to the crowd, which has moved past or is gaining on Michigan. This team can get better, but it won't get deeper. That could be the issue that ends the season earlier than expected.
The Heels are not a traditional Roy Williams squad with dominant big men you have to deal with. This is a small, 3-point-shooting team that is vulnerable in the paint and at the rim. Carolina's success will depend on how well it defends. Coby White is blossoming into one of the finest guards in the nation. He is a fantastic player who hung 33 on Miami and has the best hair in college basketball. Oscar Gamble would be proud.
This is a team to admire and enjoy. Marquette plays without fear and really guards people this season. While we all love watching Markus Howard score, give credit to Theo John and Sacar Anim, the glue that holds the defense together. Anim can cover most perimeter threats, and John protects not just the rim but also the paint. They are stars in their roles.
10. Houston Cougars
The Cougars are very good and can beat just about anybody. Houston has an eight-man rotation, but two stand out. Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks have combined to hit 141 3-point field goals in 24 games. That is ... a lot. At 23-1, Houston guards the line and shoots well from it. Kelvin Sampson has likened this team to his 2002 Oklahoma team that reached the Final Four in Atlanta. This team can reach Minneapolis with a little good fortune.
11. Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack are 23-1 after 24 games and are sometimes dismissed by naysayers (do they really say "nay?") because Nevada lost to New Mexico by 27 on the road. But in the rematch, Nevada beat the Lobos by 29. Nevada takes exceptional care of the ball, and Jordan Caroline has been terrific and should be in the discussion for All-America honors.
12. Buffalo Bulls
Another team with only three losses, Buffalo would fare well in any league. This is not the best shooting team, but it has a legit star in CJ Massinburg. The Bulls will not sneak up on anyone, but they will be a second-weekend team.
13. LSU Tigers
The Bayou Bengals have legit talent and can really get offensive rebounds. What will hold LSU back from being among the very best teams is defensive rebounding and perimeter shooting. Tremont Waters is one of the best guards in the country and one of the very best little guards, along with Campbell's Chris Clemons, Miami's Chris Lykes and Marquette's Markus Howard.
Tier Three: Second-weekend contenders
With the right draw, there are several teams that are capable of reaching the Sweet 16. But any Tier Three team can lose in the first or second round, too.
It is hard to believe the Badgers have lost eight games. This is a well-coached team that plays the right way. Wisconsin defends at a high level, and there are times when this looks like a Final Four contender. But the Badger offense is inconsistent. Ethan Happ is having a great season and is an absolute pleasure to watch, but his free throw percentage is below 50 percent, and Wisconsin is not a great rebounding team.
Hard to stop but not that hard to score against. Purdue's offense is a treat to watch and study, as the ball and player movement in Matt Painter's motion actions can be beautiful. If the Boilermakers can find some grit on the defensive end, this team can be Elite Eight good. Do you think Carsen Edwards is legit? The dude has hit more than 90 3s and more than 120 free throws. Damn.
Bruno Fernando is one of the great success stories of the season. He has played extraordinarily well and is shooting almost 70 percent from the field on 2-point field goals. With his low-post presence and Anthony Cowan's perimeter scoring, Maryland can challenge anyone in and out of the Big Ten.
Despite not having depth in offensive weapons, the Wildcats operate at the end of a shot clock as well as any team in the country. Deliberate yet fearless, Villanova shoots more 3-pointers than any team in the country, save Savannah State. The only other Power 5 team in shouting distance of the number of 3s taken by Villanova is Auburn. Villanova stretches your defense like few others can.
Much like last season, the Wildcats can choke you to death on defense but have a difficult time scoring efficiently. Losing Cartier Diarra is a blow, but Kansas State is still the best positioned to be the team that dethrones Kansas as Big 12 champion.
19. Kansas Jayhawks
How are the Jayhawks still in the Big 12 race? Losing Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick should have ended all hope. Yet Bill Self brings Ochai Agbaji off the bench, ends his redshirt, and the guy is a ball of athletic energy and life. Devon Dotson is a budding star in the Devonte' Graham/Frank Mason mold. A 12-6 record might get Kansas a share of its 15th consecutive league title, but it has to beat Kansas State to do it.
Jaylen Nowell is a pro, David Crisp and Dominic Green can make 3s, and Matisse Thybulle is a defensive wizard. Washington will win the Pac-12, but winning in the NCAA tournament will require taking better care of the ball. The Huskies turn it over too much, ranking among the bottom of the Pac-12 in turnovers.
What a gut punch against Duke. The Cardinals have been good this season, and Chris Mack has done a great job building Louisville back up his way. But to lose like the Cards did against Duke can shake belief. The best thing to do is look at the film, make corrections in an analytical fashion and move on. This team is good and is going to the NCAA tournament. Don't let the Duke loss turn into a skid because it was deflating.
22. Iowa Hawkeyes
If you liked Duke's win over Louisville, you must have liked Iowa's win over Northwestern. Iowa was dead in the water, yet began to press, switch defenses and find a way to beat the Wildcats with an amazing shot by Jordan Bohannon. The Hawkeyes are undervalued in the national conversation, but this is a good team that can be difficult to play against. The problem for Iowa is on the defensive end. Iowa can really score and block shots, but the Hawkeyes give up far too many easy ones.
23. Auburn Tigers
The Tigers are a tough team to figure out in conference play. Auburn is now under .500 and one of the best offensive teams in the SEC. But while turning teams over and creating a chaotic game, Auburn is fouling too much and putting opponents on the foul line. Still, this is a team that should be a high seed in the NCAA tournament. If not, they will make life hell for an early opponent.
The Hokies are a terrific offensive team that is simply playing short-handed without Justin Robinson, who is out indefinitely. Virginia Tech will be back in the top 15 or top 10 when Robinson is back to full strength.
This is the first time in forever that Cincinnati's offense is better than its defense. Mick Cronin is now an offensive coach. One of the reasons is the play of junior guard Jarron Cumberland, who is shooting better from 3 than from 2. Cumberland has hit 61 3-point field goals, but only he and Justin Jenifer (40) have hit more than 18.
The Cyclones are just a bit of toughness and experience away from being Big 12 champs and a Final Four-contending team. Steve Prohm has battled injury and suspension early in the season to have a full roster, and this team can play. All that is missing is high-level consistency and some toughness.
The Seminoles are an odd roller coaster with big swings. After the loss to Duke in which Florida State seemingly had the game won, there was a brief two-game slide that signaled a hangover. Then Florida State ripped off five straight. With size and athleticism, Florida State has only to take better care of the ball to be a Sweet 16 team. Beyond that, the Seminoles will need bracket assistance.
The Bulldogs have lost six of the past 11 games. Five of those losses have been by five points or fewer. Ben Howland's team is veteran and solid, though the Bulldogs can do a better job of taking care of the ball and getting into the paint more often.
The song remains the same on Texas Tech: amazing defense that grinds you down and makes you want to tap out and quit. But the Red Raiders are the same on the offensive end in some games. Texas Tech is eighth in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting and turnover percentage and ninth in the league in offensive rebounding. Points are hard to come by, but Texas Tech cannot be expected to pitch shutouts against good teams.
Tier four: NCAA tournament-worthy teams
This group belongs in the tournament. Can the teams in Tier Four do anything of note once they get there? Let's just say the jury's out.
30. TCU Horned Frogs
Alex Robinson is one of the very best passers in the country. He averages 7.4 assists per game and is tied with Michigan State's Cassius Winston for fourth in the nation in assists.
31. Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels have lost five of nine even after the Auburn win on Wednesday and could be headed toward a .500 finish in the SEC. Still, this is a good team with very good guards. You have to defend the Ole Miss guards without fouling, as the Rebels shoot better than 77 percent from the line, third in the SEC and 10th nationally.
32. Syracuse Orange
The early struggles of the Orange were hard to figure out, and Wednesday's outing at NC State was not impressive, but Syracuse has been much better in its past 14 games (10-4). Buddy Boeheim has been a nice addition with his shooting. Boeheim has hit 18 of his 29 3-point field goals since the Duke win in January.
The Buckeyes have been solid of late but have little margin for error. The glaring issue is turnovers, with Ohio State coughing up the ball on 19 percent of its offensive possessions, 14th in the Big Ten. Couple that with the fact that Ohio State is not a great offensive rebounding team, and there are not enough extra possessions.
34. Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are 15-9 after 24 games and going to the NCAA tournament as long as they stay healthy. Clemson guards people and usually has under Brad Brownell. But perimeter shooting has been inconsistent. Marcquise Reed is more of an attack guard who gets to the foul line than one who knocks down 3s, and Shelton Mitchell has only hit 33 3s. But foul those two, and it is money. They both shoot better than 80 percent from the foul line, which is key at the end of close games.
35. Baylor Bears
The Bears are an interesting case. Baylor has good wins in conference but not many out of the league. Baylor has one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, just behind Portland State and just ahead of Kentucky, but gives those extra possessions away by turning the ball over so much. Just getting a shot attempt gives Baylor a chance to rebound it, so the turnovers are doubly hurtful. Makai Mason, the transfer from Yale, leads the Bears in scoring and 3-point shooting.
36. UCF Knights
The Knights pass the eye test and are NCAA tournament-worthy, but the résumé still could use some padding. A key will be beating Houston to end the discussion. UCF is solid on the defensive end, and the Knights do a good job getting to the free throw line. They just need to hit more when they get there. B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins have combined for 88 3-point field goals. That is a good backcourt.
37. Wofford Terriers
If you haven't seen the Terriers play, they are very good. Wofford is 21-4 with losses only to North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State (with all four losses by double digits). Wofford can really shoot the ball, with Fletcher Magee hitting more than 90 3s, Nate Hoover hitting more than 50 3s and Wofford fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage. Wofford is just the type of team you want to avoid in March ... a team of good shooters that knows how to play.
What a weird ride this team has been on lately. NC State takes Virginia to the wire and loses by one in overtime, then scores only 24 points in 40 minutes against Virginia Tech, then scores 96 against North Carolina while giving up 113 points (as many as the Wolfpack gave up in the prior two games combined), then handles Syracuse. Torin Dorn is having a nice season, leading the Pack in scoring and rebounding as a wing.
St. John's has been one of the nation's most frustrating teams, capable of a home-and-away sweep of top-10 Marquette but not answering the bell at home against DePaul, Georgetown or Providence. The tournament would be better if Shamorie Ponds is in it, though not for the teams forced to face the Johnnies.
40. Florida Gators
The Gators continue to cling to NCAA tournament hope despite a record that has floated right around the .500 mark in February. Mike White's group needs to get better around the rim to make a run -- their 45 percent clip on 2-point baskets is last in the SEC.
41. Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns are going to be controversial on Selection Sunday. Texas has good wins and good metrics, so the selection committee will have reason to place them in the field. But Texas will also have more than a dozen losses, which will make it more palatable to give the spot to a mid-major. Texas is good but should have a better record. Perimeter shooting is the one area that has left the Longhorns vulnerable to getting beaten. Texas shoots 32 percent from deep, seventh in the Big 12, but shoots 53 percent from inside the arc, tops in the Big 12.
The Jays have been mired in a losing stretch that puts an NCAA tournament bid in jeopardy. Creighton has lost seven of 10 games and is just 4-7 in the Big East. The Jays can really shoot it but have a harder time getting stops, especially in league play, in which they are dead last in effective field goal percentage defense.
Daniel Gafford gets 17 points and nine rebounds per game and remains a major handful around the rim for opponents. But if Arkansas is to win key games over the final weeks, that 66 percent team free throw percentage is going to have to improve.
Tier five: Scratching for at-large berths
More than any other year, there will be a record number of at-large teams with losing conference records. The issue will be comparing those teams to mid-major teams that have better-looking records but aren't necessarily better teams. For example, both Nebraska and Indiana are out of The Bilas Index -- Nebraska because the Huskers are a different (and lesser) team without Isaac Copeland in the lineup, and Indiana because it has lost nine of 10.
44. Butler Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are another team in danger of falling out of consideration for an at-large berth due to a slide. Butler has lost eight of its past 13 games and still has Providence (twice), Marquette and Villanova coming up.
The Aggies are leading the WAC again, to the surprise of just about no one, and it's because they do so many of the little things well. Chris Jans' group is top 10 in the country in block percentage (5.9), steal percentage (6.5) and offensive rebound percentage (37.6), per KenPom.
Alabama has wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State already this season and has proved that it can play with anyone. The Tide's hopes down the stretch will be powered by leading scorer and facilitator Kira Lewis, who at 17 is the youngest regular in Division I.
47. VCU Rams
VCU looks like the Atlantic 10's best hope of making noise in the tournament. The Rams have the best 3-point defense of any team in the country (25.9 percent) but struggle shooting it from deep (29.9 percent) and need to cut down on turnovers (second-worst turnover percentage in the A-10).
Richard Pitino's squad has been mired in inconsistency, but remember that this is a team that has taken down Wisconsin, Iowa and Washington already this season. Double-double machine Jordan Murphy (14.5 points, 11.9 rebounds per game) is at the heart of the Gophers' efforts.
The Aggies remain something of a mystery team nationally, though guard Sam Merrill, who had racked up five straight 20-plus-point games before putting up 19 in a win over Wyoming on Wednesday, could play anywhere. Craig Smith's group gets one more chance to prove it belongs when the Aggies host Nevada on March 2.
50. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners have lost five straight and seven of the past nine games. The Bilas Index dropped out Indiana and Nebraska due to extended losing skids and injury, and Oklahoma needs to pull out of this tailspin to avoid the same fate. A 3-9 record in the Big 12 will not play in the postseason.
The Sun Devils' high rate of volatility was proved in a three-day stretch in which they fell to struggling Washington State by 21 and then defeated Pac-12-leading Washington. When Bobby Hurley & Co. defend the 3-point line and shoot reasonably well from the perimeter, they can beat just about anyone.
Credit to Kevin Willard for keeping the Pirates in the mix despite losing so much of their core from last season. The Pirates have wins over Kentucky and Maryland, and another signature win or two could send Myles Powell (21.7 points per game) back to the tournament.
53. Lipscomb Bisons
The Bisons saw their 11-game winning streak end at the hands of Liberty on Wednesday night, but don't let that obscure the facts on a very good team that counts a victory over TCU among its 20 wins. Lipscomb plays fast -- Casey Alexander's team is top 10 in the nation in tempo, and senior Garrison Mathews (19.8 points per game) is in his third year as one of the country's underrated scorers.
John Becker's group just keeps on rolling and has positioned itself for March because of the way it shoots the ball. The Catamounts are at 76 percent from the line and have shot close to 40 percent from 3 in conference play.
This might not be a year in which Saint Mary's can go toe-to-toe with Gonzaga in the WCC -- the Gaels lost by 48 to the Zags -- but don't let that one result detract from the good work Randy Bennett's club has done. Jordan Ford (21.6 points per game) leads a team that took tournament-bound LSU and Mississippi State to the wire in the nonconference part of the schedule.
56. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks are having a different season than they would have with a healthy Bol Bol, but credit to Dana Altman for keeping his team relevant in the Pac-12 without the freshman sensation. Payton Pritchard (12.1 points per game) could help Oregon go on a late run.
57. Memphis Tigers
Senior Jeremiah Martin is one of the underrated perimeter players in the country and is finishing a strong career with the improving Tigers. Martin's 41-point second half against South Florida on Feb. 2 was a sight to behold.
58. Hofstra Pride
If you haven't seen Justin Wright-Foreman play, check him out. Hofstra has a great chance to make the NCAA field, and everyone will get to know him then. Wright-Foreman is the best Hofstra guard since Speedy Claxton played for Jay Wright. He is averaging 26 points on 52 percent shooting and has already put 42 on Northeastern and 48 on William & Mary. That dude is a stone-cold baller.
The Dons recently got over a three-game losing skid that damaged their national cachet, but they're likely to be favored for the remainder of the regular season. Guards Charles Minlend and Frankie Ferrari average about 30 points per game combined and make USF go.
What a year for the Southern Conference, which has four really good teams: Wofford, Furman, East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro. Guards Francis Alonso (17.2 points per game) and Isaiah Miller (15.2 points per game) are two of the league's most dangerous players.
The Wildcats are still atop the A-10 standings, but a team that lost to Saint Joseph's and UMass is probably not going to receive serious at-large consideration. Still, this program is a tournament perennial with a notably productive player this season in Iceland-bred guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson (16.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game).
62. Belmont Bruins
Veteran coach Rick Byrd just keeps getting it done with a program that has won seven straight and is in the top 10 in the nation in effective field goal percentage (56.5). Dylan Windler (20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds per game), who is averaging a double-double, is a big part of the Bruins' success.
63. Temple Owls
The Owls are still the only team to beat Houston this season, but they are going to need to go on a season-ending run for Fran Dunphy's final season on North Broad Street to include an NCAA tournament appearance. Shizz Alston (18.1 points, 5.0 assists per game) might need to put Temple on his back down the stretch.
Everyone at all levels of basketball wants to see probable top-two NBA draft pick Ja Morant in the NCAA tournament, but the Racers are not going to have it easy with Ohio Valley Conference rivals Belmont and Austin Peay harboring real conference title hopes. This team's inconsistency from 3-point range (34.4 percent) could be its undoing.
The Wildcats can tell Louisville a thing or two about deflating losses -- they had Iowa beaten on the road Sunday for what would have been their season's signature win. The good news, even after Wednesday's home loss to Rutgers, is Chris Collins & Co. have some more opportunities -- Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State twice -- to prove they're better than their middling record indicates.
Hats off to Brian Gregory for leading USF to its first winning season since 2011-12. If the Bulls are going to take the next step, they'll need to fix a turnover percentage (23.3) and free throw percentage (63.6 percent) that are near the bottom nationally.
67. Toledo Rockets
Buffalo has been the story in the MAC this season, but don't forget about the West division-leading Rockets, who have won five straight heading into Friday night's epic showdown with the Bulls. It would be hard to imagine Toledo beating Buffalo unless top scorer Jaelan Sanford shoots better from the perimeter; he's 5-of-33 from 3 during the Rockets' win streak.
68. Furman Paladins
The Paladins (20-5) have cooled off somewhat since beating Villanova and Loyola-Chicago in the nonconference but still get UNC Greensboro and Wofford at home and can reassert themselves. Senior Matt Rafferty (17.0 points, 8.9 rebounds per game) has a good chance to conclude his Furman career with some hardware and a postseason bid.